(photo credit: Antiquities Authority)
A large Byzantine bathhouse has been uncovered near Sderot, the Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.
The structure was discovered close to Kibbutz Gevim during an ongoing salvage excavation ahead of the laying of a rail track that will eventually run from Ashkelon to Netivot.
The massive bathhouse, which covers an area of 20 x 20 meters, was apparently destroyed by a cave-in and was later used as a dump that was filled with household refuse, said Gregory Serai, the director of the excavation.
The original bathhouse contained at least six rooms, including a changing room, and separate rooms where cold and hot water tubs were available, with the latter similar to today's saunas, he said.
The site, which included an elaborate underground heating system, was the largest bathhouse ever found in southern Israel, Serai said.
Following its destruction, the structure served as a source of building material, which is evidenced by the stone walls that were robbed.
The ancient village where the bathhouse was located was situated on a road that linked Beersheba with Gaza, and likely began as a road station in the Roman period, he said.
The evacuation, which began a month and a half ago, will continue next week after a break due to the rain that drenched Israel earlier this week.